Girl groups are so hot right now. Ladies from coast to coast are making some serious acanoise lately and showing other groups what’s up, so why should New York City be any different? Like every big city, prices can be outrageous, everything moves fast, and it seems like you’re always in someone else’s way, but that doesn’t deter these ladies from making music. I corresponded with the lovely Cara Joyce, current President of Empire (http://www.empireacappella.com/) and one of the original founders, to get the lowdown on what makes Empire one of New York City’s go-to girl groups.
A lot of people don’t know where to go to sing after college is over, but thankfully, The Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL) is helping to fix that problem. By advocating the creation and formation of groups around the country, more post-grads get the chance to continue doing what they love. RARB (the Recorded A Cappella Review Board) is yet another outlet for the acalover, and in the spring of 2010 that is where Sonia Ahjua, Cara Joyce, and Angela Ugolini first met. The three women, freshly graduated, were interested in creating an all-female group in the city. They met for coffee in May, planned all summer, and held auditions in September.
When choosing a name for the fierce femme group, the ladies wanted something simple and badass, one word that would say it all. There was a list of fifty words, but “empire” stood out from the start. At first glance you would think it was chosen because of the famous Empire State Building in New York City, but Cara explains, “Empire also means power. We like to think of ourselves as powerful women in our individual lives that become even more powerful when we unite on stage.”
These women are definitely a force to be reckoned with. These thirteen stunning women devote three and a half hours each week to rehearsals, gig around two to three times a month, and always have a representation at SoJam and VoCALnation. They are already planning their spring tour, and are in the preliminary stages of recording for the second time. Such dedication certainly pays off, too. Last spring Empire won Best Choreography at the New York Regional Harmony Sweepstakes. When I asked Cara about the importance of choreography in a set, she replied, “Choreo, if done tastefully, can add a lot to your set. We focused on adding simple moves and formations to our set to help enhance our performance. We aim for our choreo to be simple, yet effective. Stage presence is important for any a cappella group. We've worked really hard to achieve a cohesive dynamic on stage. We very rarely incorporate choreo into all our sets, but constantly make a point to present well to the audience.”
Even though a true lady never reveals her age, Cara told me that the average age of an Empire girl is 24, and that they’re all unmarried! The majority of these young single ladies have backgrounds in collegiate a cappella, and so the transition from college to CAL group can be challenging. It’s very much like the old adage “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Many girls are quick to chime in with how their old groups were run, and they each approach things completely differently from one another. The best way to tackle the situation, Cara says, was talking it out. “In forming Empire, it has been key to continue to discuss things as a group, compromising along the way. Our music director once said, ‘We all came from different places but we've left them now. We're in New York City, we're in Empire. This is YOUR group. Let's start thinking like one.’ And from that point on, we have.”
I spent a lot of time reflecting on Cara’s email response and watching videos of Empire’s performances, and there’s just a natural warmth that emanates from them. Cara remarked, “Everyone makes Empire a priority, and keeps communication open when they have a conflict. We're really respectful and supportive of one another.” They genuinely love to be together. At rehearsals they do impromptu drum circles which always end up in hysterical laughter. They make an effort to go to Happy Hour together at least once a week and attend each other’s work events and fundraisers. They eat veggie burgers at Dorian Grays in the East Village, go to concerts and retreats, and celebrate birthdays, promotions, and marathons together. Music may have first united them, but it’s the outside efforts that pull them even closer.
When asked what others should know about the group, Cara replied, “Each one of us genuinely enjoys being a part of Empire. We love the music, but we mostly love hanging out with one another. We feel so lucky to have been welcomed so warmly by CAL, are thrilled to have covered so much ground in just two years, and are looking forward to what's to come.”
With such strong dedication to the music and to each other, there’s no doubt that whatever comes next for Empire is going to be nothing short of amazing.
About the writer:
Heather Newkirk is currently a member of Main Squeeze, an all-female group at Syracuse University, and received an award for Best Arrangement in the 2012 ICCAs. She has served in almost every position imaginable in an a cappella group, from soloist to arranger to choreographer to public relations to music director, and with experience arranging for a variety of high school and collegiate groups, she is always excited to workshop with others. When she's not rocking hard on the mic, you can find her trolling teh intarwebz, googling kittens, or eating something. Heather is a lover of animals, acafestivals, bacon, and awkward moments.